What a crypto trader can learn
from the world’s most feared negotiator
“I focused on what I could control – the means – not what I could not control – the end. (…) too many () do just the opposite. They focus on what they cannot control – the end – while losing sight of what they can control – the means.”
–Jim Camp. Start With No.
The World’s Most Feared Negotiator, the late great Jim Camp, said that all decisions are emotional and that the job of the professional negotiator is to reduce emotion and move people to rational decision-making.
Rational decisions in negotiation require a mission, purpose, appropriate questions and management of your four key budgets. These budgets are emotion, financial, time and energy. The more you allow your adversary to increase your four budgets, the worse your decisions will be.
Now if this seems a lot like trading, that’s because it is.
Traders require all of these components to make good trading decisions, but we seldom manage our internal budgets in a systematic way like a professional negotiator. For the trader, these four budgets are key components of your internal balance sheet.
But who is your adversary?
Well, for the crypto trader, it’s not just the anonymous people in a distributed, peer to peer, transaction system like Bitcoin. Your primary adversary, the one you are constantly negotiating with, is yourself.
Let’s look at a few of Jim’s key points about negotiation and see how we can apply them to trading.
What is negotiation?
Jim uses the dictionary to define negotiation as an agreement between two or more parties, where all parties have the right to veto.
The right to veto is the right to say no.
You see, many negotiators and salespeople try to manipulate their prospects and adversaries into saying yes. You’ve been through this yourself.
When a salesperson does this, the prospect is on guard for what’s coming next. They cannot be persuaded in this state. They will not make a decision.
Trading is a series of negotiations. A series of decisions. The right to say no is a fundamental part of successful trading in any asset. The right to say no means not having to take a trade. Not having to agree with someone else’s trade or idea. Or even to have a trade on if it doesn’t fit with your approach.
In order to make effective trading decisions, you should know why you are trading or doing the trade in the first place. This starts with your mission and purpose.
Your mission and purpose
When Jim entered a negotiation, he began with extensive research on the people involved, the company, the industry and the product. This background helped him understand what he was getting into.
Jim then used this information to define his mission and purpose.
For Jim, this meant creating a focus for his activities. The mission and purpose might be what he would be doing on behalf of his adversary. What he was offering. How he would help them.
As a trader, research is your chart reading, fundamental modelling or system development. For the trader, the mission and purpose is why you will be doing the trade in the first place.
For example, your trade will test a hypothesis or an idea. The idea is not fixed, it’s uncertain. It’s a thought process based on analysis. You don’t need a specific outcome because it’s an experiment designed to provide information.
Now it’s time for some questions.
The power of questions
Next Jim would meet with the adversary and ask a series of open-ended interrogative questions. These questions are designed to create a vision of the adversaries problem in their own mind.
Open-ended interrogative questions start with what, why, when, where and how.
So for the trader, these questions form the foundation for your trading plan. You will be asking your inner adversary:
What trading opportunity do I think is unfolding based on these conditions?
Why do I think this situation is unfolding?
When do I think this will occur?
How do I think the situation will unfold?
What are the other possible results of this trade?
How will I respond to these alternative scenarios?
What are my financial commitments in terms of position size and loss threshold to this trade?
And so on.
The key here is that no matter what work you put into the trading idea, you have the right to say no. You have the right to let yourself start over as conditions change and look at something else.
As your trade is put on, you must then manage your budgets.
In negotiation, there are emotional budgets, financial budgets, time budgets and energy budgets. The negotiator works to keep their various budgets low giving them an advantage.
Jim describes how a company in a negotiation will have you flying all over the place using up lots of personal energy and money. The objective is to wear you out and lower your resistance to their terms.
They can also drag out negotiations as long as possible to take advantage of your need to get something done by a deadline (your quarterly quota), taxing your time budget.
They will try to create neediness by talking big numbers to get you to show your best price – then closer to the close they show you the real amount. This drives up your emotional budget.
Your job as a negotiator is to anticipate these tactics and counter them in a way that keeps your budgets of emotions, money, time and energy low.
As a trader, these budgets are internal. You are negotiating with your internal adversary. These hopes, dreams, fears, desires, peer pressures all affect how you make decisions.
Good trading decisions are the result of a well managed internal balance sheet by focusing on the means rather than the end.
The emotional budget
The most important budget is your emotional one. One of the great challenges of a trader, like a negotiator, is neediness. Neediness is an emotional response to a belief or idea that may not be valid.
Like the need to be consistent with some statement you made. For example, when you declare BTC is going higher (or lower), you might think you NEED to be long (or short) to be consistent.
Or if you believe in the technology, you may feel you NEED to hold, because you might get called out.
You may feel like you NEED to hold onto a position as it falls, because you believe that it will be successful one day. Even though one day is some unknown point in an uncertain future.
You might have a plan to sell at a certain stop-loss point, but because you NEED to be right, you hold as it falls.
You might feel like you NEED to buy it because it’s getting away and you don’t want to be left behind.
These needs are false beliefs. They are emotional responses to a situation, and in every case, you have removed your right to veto. You have removed your right to say no.
And when you remove your right to veto, you are raising your emotional budget and several other budgets in the process.
So NOT NEEDING an outcome is the right way to drive good trading decisions.
You will keep your time budget as low as possible by not committing to a hard timeline for an outcome. Unless you are trading an instrument with a contract mandated expiry date like options or futures, your time budget should be dependent on the market’s behaviour.
If you are saying something should happen by this date, time of day or some other imaginary endpoint, you are creating an emotional commitment.
Keep your time budget low by relying on the parameters of your trading plan rather than some artificial time constraint.
The financial budget
On the financial budget side, you keep this budget low by avoiding using critical funds for speculative trading. If the rent has to be paid, you don’t trade with that money.
Avoid putting yourself in a difficult position by concentrating too many assets in one hypothesis. This is the fastest way to drive this budget up.
Keeping your financial budget low also means using stop losses. Don’t make your tuition bigger than it needs to be.
And don’t trade to “make money” to pay for something. Or even worse, to “make it back.”
A well managed financial budget will also have the benefit of keeping your emotional budget down as well.
Trading at the best of times is demanding. Your energy budget is a vital part of your decision-making process. Your mission here is to find ways to manage this budget so you can think clearly during important moments.
There are several ways to keep your energy budget low including:
Doing your research and laying out a trading plan
Defining your mission and purpose in advance
Being clear on what decisions you will be making and when
Avoid doing things that unnecessarily raise your emotional and financial budgets
Then by getting adequate sleep, proper sustenance and keeping active, you can even enhance your energy budget.
Sustaining yourself through challenging market conditions requires sustainable energy. Any steps you can take to enhance this while keeping the expenditure low is an advantage.
We all know what happens to decision-making when you are tired, stressed and unhealthy.
Trade like a negotiator
As you approach your trading, think like a negotiator.
Give yourself the right to veto a trade without succumbing to emotional baggage.
Set up a mission and purpose for your trades.
Build your trading plan with a series of open-ended interrogative questions. And manage your emotional, financial, time and energy budgets.
And remember, your adversary isn’t the people on the network, it’s you.
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